How They Shine

Author: Katherine Vande Brake

In How They Shine: Melungeon Characters in the Fiction of Appalachia

Vande Brake argues that fiction writers choose to create Melungeon characters, incorporate Melungeon lore, and replicate the Melungeon experience because Melungeon is such a powerful metaphor. Their use of Melungeons is not intended as an insult, but instead as a way to say more with less. Melungeon means mystery, unpredictability, isolation, prejudice, passion, volatility, superstition, pride. Melungeon means fiery moonshine “likker,” beautiful dark skinned woman, and handsome, reckless men. Melungeon conjures visions of independent life on Appalachian ridges, tongue-speaking preachers handling poisonous snakes, secluded log cabins with arched windows, and family genealogies complete with foreign-sounding names. Melungeon assumes exotic ethnic origins in the days before the English colonized North America.